Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Justice should embrace the treasury

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It is this relentless focus on ensuring that everything we do actually achieves our aims that is desperately needed in crime and justice policy. To do something radical such as cutting prison numbers, a new Justice Secretary will need allies and I think the best bet is the Treasury.

Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, (@vickihcardwell) Director of Research and Development at Revolving Doors Agency is the latest contributor to the current guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary.

Embrace, don’t hate the Treasury

I realise this contradicts what many of my colleagues blogging for this series have outlined, but if I were Justice Secretary I would – perhaps controversially – embrace rather than tolerate the Treasury.

What do I mean by that?  Firstly I don’t mean cutting ever more from prisons and probation budgets and asking these important public services just to do more with less. We have seen from recent inspection reports that cuts to prisons are seriously damaging rehabilitation, while the cross-party Justice Select Committee partly attributed the terrible rise in suicides and violence to staff reductions.

No, we need something much more meaningful and radical than just cutting siloed budgets. By embracing the Treasury, I mean in its function of ensuring value for money in achieving the government’s goals. I am happy to take the Justice Secretary’s own stated goals as the starting point:

“We work to protect the public and reduce reoffending, and to provide a more effective, transparent and responsive criminal justice system for victims and the public”

Although I might reshape these aims to include reducing harm and helping people to be and feel safe, this is not a bad start. The next logical step then is to decide which policies are most effective in achieving these aims, given that every pound spent must count.


Tackling complex problems

As Revolving Doors manifesto for the next government makes clear, this means tackling some of the complex problems that drive demand on the criminal justice system in the first place. People facing multiple and complex needs are over-represented on short prison sentences, often repeatedly arrested, using emergency services and experiencing entrenched poverty and deprivation. As I’ve written previously, when people are failed by social policy, it is the justice system that pick up the responsibility.

Which department recently grasped the nettle and outlined a commitment to integrate services for people with complex needs? Not the thinkers at number 10, but the number crunchers at number 11.

It was also the Treasury that put in ink to paper outlining an approach that diverts women convicted of petty non-violent crimes into community based support such as mental health treatment, drug and alcohol services and women’s centres that can reduce reoffending, and could reduce an over-reliance on costly and ineffective short prison sentences. There is, in fact, cross-party recognition that this group needs better preventative and co-ordinated support before problems escalate. However, this needs proper investment, and to date the case for diversion is being made by those holding the purse strings.

It is this relentless focus on ensuring that everything we do actually achieves our aims that is desperately needed in crime and justice policy. To do something radical such as cutting prison numbers, a new Justice Secretary will need allies and I think the best bet is the Treasury.


The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be.

Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling

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What next for justice?

Guest bloggers came from a wide range of viewpoints including several organisations with a particular criminal justice focus including prison reform, employment for women offenders, restorative justice etc. This, thankfully, made for very different priorities with limited repetition. Nevertheless, four key themes emerged from this spectrum of views.

The Justice priorities of Unlock

As things stand, a criminal record is for life, no matter how old or minor. This is despite knowing that, in particular, young people make mistakes when they’re young. In essence, young people should be allowed to fail. Ways to properly and fully ‘wipe the slate clean’ for minor offending should be established.

Big Society Capital’s priorities for the new Justice Secretary

Charities and social enterprises have a lot of value to bring in the future criminal justice system, building on the deep knowledge and experience they have gained from the work they have already done. And while an increasing number of corporates delivering public services are working to embed social values alongside their traditional aims,

If Jocelyn Hillman were Justice Secretary

My first priority as Justice Secretary would be to lead by example, hiring an ex-offender as my diary secretary. By employing women with convictions the government could reduce reoffending at no cost to the taxpayer, while also creating life-changing opportunities for some of the most marginalised people in our society.

I would ensure that ex-offenders were included in the Ministry’s diversity quotas and that my staff, from top to bottom, were engaged in understanding the importance of inclusive hiring practices. I would also ensure all government contractors were obliged to implement the same measures.

Langley House Trust’s justice priorities

As Justice Secretary I would ensure that we never lost sight of the fact that offenders are human beings – just like you and me – with basic needs which need to be properly met. I would also remember that offenders as human beings also need to have hope. Hope that as convicted prisoners they can serve their time in a constructive way

If Alex Cavendish were Justice Secretary

At the moment our prisons are a ticking time bomb that could explode into violence without warning. Frontline staff shortages and overcrowding are contributing to this explosive and toxic environment. If I were Secretary of State for Justice my first priority would be to ensure that no prison in England and Wales has less staff than it needs to operate a safe, normal regime.

All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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